belonging

Balance Wheel

Somewhere between the need to belong and the constraints of conformity lies that Utopian state. I am beginning to realise that this is applicable across all modes of social interaction, whether they be real or virtual.

It begins with people finding a common interest or ‘wavelength’ and sharing great vibes. School/college cliques, blogs and microblogs, workplaces, interest groups and so on.  Startups are fun places to work in the initial years because rules are made on the go, blogs and microblogs in their early days were sparsely populated and everyone was discovering their own voice and community norms.

I have always wondered what breaks the utopian state – time or an increase in the group size. These days I am beginning to be convinced that it is the latter. As each new member is added to the initial set, the needle begins to slowly shift from the erstwhile average. The addition of new members also changes the dynamics of the group and slowly the earlier common sense of belonging changes even as a new one is created. Some adapt, others refuse to conform and break away.

But what I have also realised recently is that there is a middle path – refusing to conform but refusing to go away either. It is a tightrope walk, and best done without baggage. And that’s the walk I am trying to learn, across my worlds.

until next time, walking schtick

But what do I know?

Unlike in my other blog, Seth Godin is rarely referenced here. But when I read this post (rant, he says) from him titled “Deliberately uninformed, relentlessly so“, I sensed some vague connection with something I’d written a while back.

Unlike other posts of Godin, whose blog I religiously follow for its ‘food for thought’, I found a smugness to this post – perhaps the rant provides the liberty. But as always, he manages to make a point. However, for a second, I wondered about the irony of this post coming from someone who does not allow comments on his blog. And thus this post.

It is to be noted that he did not switch off comments just like that, he has valid reasons. Even if one just looks at the scale (1858 people retweeted and 2373 ‘Like’s) and considers  only a certain % commenting, it would tend towards chaotic. But whatever the reasons, he has chosen not to use comments as a channel.

Ok, lets move on to me now. :) I don’t read business books, however I follow several blogs in my line of work and otherwise. I rely on my Twitter, Reader and (occasionally) Facebook connections to point me to interesting reads. I also use Wikipedia extensively, despite the accusation that crowdsourced content can only be so trustworthy. From all this consumption, I have ‘superficial’ information on a lot of subjects, which make good conversation. This is also because I have way too many interests, and I’m forever in awe of things I don’t easily understand. My interest sometimes wears off after I’m able to bring a subject to my horizons of understanding. Sometimes, a more knowledgeable person corrects me/points me to things he/she thinks might interest me further and whenever I need/want to know more about a subject, I try and use the web’s sources to the fullest.

But here’s the thing. Once upon a time, I could remember websites in context and add to discussions (offline), but increasingly I rely on delicious, among other things. I’m forced to prioritise my memory thanks to the ton of information out there that I process daily. Ok, that, and age.  :) And this is not a problem that will end soon, and its something I keep bringing up here. (Read)

Time is the new currency, and I increasingly feel that people now react mercilessly to an “I don’t know”. Is that an excuse for people to claim knowledge of things they know nothing about? Maybe not, but perhaps like many other things, it is one of the ways for them to feel accepted and have a sense of belonging. So yes, it might be easy to label it as being deliberately uninformed, but in judging people so, without context and more understanding, we might be falling into the same trap ourselves – about people this time, as opposed to subjects.

until next time, judge mental capabilities?

Gulp fiction

I’m quite a huge fan of Heroes and was quite sad to see Season 4 end, more so than normal season finales, because after quite a while, there was a villain that I could really empathise with.  Robert Knepper as Samuel Sullivan just rocked. Though the villainy is manifested in his selfish desire to become more powerful, there was something in his arguments that made me forget it at regular intervals. To give you some context, the entire series revolves around people with special abilities (think X-Men). This season, mostly through Knepper’s character- Samuel, emphasised a lot on how society treats such people. Samuel’s desperation to belong (and later make normal people respect his kind) is expressed very well in his conversation with another character with abilities, Claire.

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you”, says Claire, quoting Sartre.

“I always thought freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose”, counters Samuel, without acknowledging “Me and Bobby McGee” :)

The urge to belong and the pain of being different. Mo wrote a post recently on being chided for missing a reference in a conversation. A reference to Pulp Fiction.  At a broader level its also a small commentary about our consumption of popular culture, and second had experiences. Its a sentiment I share – that somehow the consumption of popular and even off beat culture and getting the respective references is the benchmark for judging a person. So, to get bombarded with “haven’t you seen/read/eaten.. don’t you know..” is now a common thing. Like I told her, thanks to everyone becoming media, C+ is actually a great grade, considering the noise.

In some ways, I felt it also throws up our need for validation. The consumption and the opinions we have on that decide the kind of role we land in our immediate crowd, and now, the larger world. From “Govinda movies??!!” and “MLTR is why I go away from you” to “Eww, you’re still on Orkut?! .. Omigod, how can you play Farmville??”,  this judgment happens all the time  :)

At times, the validation is for others and their expectations, and at times for the self. In many ways, I think its like some gladiator fight where a person is just fighting himself, and the expectations he has set. The audience could be the self, or others. If its the latter, its all okay so long as the person conforms to a broadly accepted set of norms within the crowd.Even if one wants to get out of it, its difficult. Its difficult to sever the connection between a validation that is given to one without asking and the ties that one would want with other humans. :)

In Heroes, Claire’s character’s ability is instant regeneration. Break a bone, receive a bullet wound, and she heals instantly. In the last scene of season 4, she throws herself from the top of a Ferris wheel, lands on the ground all broken up, and immediately heals, all in front of a waiting media crew. An open challenge to society to accept her the way she is. And another character says “Its a brave new world”. To me, it was a statement of hope, one that will get out of a TV show that’s part of popular culture, and enter the real world.

But meanwhile, for now, until the pill happens, the moment one goes beyond what can be immediately understood, and what provides a point of reference, one has to be ready for “And I will strike upon thee… “:D

until next time, reverence to reference :)

Characteristics

There are nearly seven billion people on this planet. Each one unique, different. What are the chances of that? And why? Is it simply biology, physiology that determines this diversity? A collection of thoughts, memories, experiences that carve out our own special place? Or is it something more than this? Perhaps there’s a master plan that drives the randomness of creation, something unknowable that dwells in the soul, and presents each one of us with a unique set of challenges, that will help us discover who we really are.

We are all connected, joined together by an invisible thread, infinite in its potential and fragile in its design. Yet while connected, we are also merely individuals, empty vessels to be filled with infinite possibilities, an assortment of thoughts, beliefs, a collection of disjointed memories and experiences… Can I be me without these? Can you be you?

And if this invisible thread that holds us together were to sever, to cease, what then? What would become of billions of lone, disconnected souls? Therein lies the great quest of our lives, to find, to connect, to hold on. For when our hearts are pure, and our thoughts in line, we are all truly one, capable of repairing our fragile world, and creating a universe of infinite possibilities.

Thus spake Mohinder Suresh in”An Invisible Thread”, the season finale of ‘Heroes’.

And as if on cue, a large number of conversations and experiences popped up as conversations inside my head. Yes, those nice voices in the head. :)

I remembered the conversations that Mo and i keep having on the subject of identity, purpose, character and other stuff that she completely gets. Okay i get too, but muddled up. :) I remembered how, when I was reading Archer’s ‘Sons of Fortune’..again, I suddenly figured out why he is my favourite author. In addition to that amazing gift of story telling he has got, its his characters, and their character. Good or bad, they seem to have a moral code. They are noble – noble heroes and noble villains. (remember that word, shall come back to it in a while) Even when they come in contact with their character’s grey areas, they have a rationale they can apply to the situation. They make you aspire for such clarity in thought and deed, in being true to themselves and their character.

Meanwhile, I see around me, a lot of young people eager to emulate – even things that I hoped would question and better. And as i keep a watch on that, I sense that they do it to belong, at any cost. They are willing to take their lessons from second hand accounts – not accounts of mistakes, which could be argued as a good thing, but enriching experiences that would shape their character. Of course, not every young person I know is like that. I also come across quite a few who have more character and maturity than many people double their age. But I do see more of the first kind. It is a different kind of conforming than what i was have seen earlier – a  need to fit into their peer group’s collective terms.

On twitter and Facebook and all the services which connect us, I see this set, and more coming in every day to add to their number. And in this collective consciousness, I glimpse the desperation in the need to belong at any cost – even  at the cost of a character that is still being formed. A shared identity and a strong character, can it co exist? I wonder, if in this age of possibilities, they will be satisfied with this belonging, I also hope that they will not wake up, one day, years later and rue this conformity that they created for themselves.

And then, I remember what a smart young lady from that age group once told me “Manu, this is so archaic. Only you could use the word ‘noble’ in conversation”. So, I wonder whether there is something in this connectedness that I don’t understand, whether the ‘plan’ requires all kinds of characters – with or without a strong character, to maintain the balance,  or whether the kind of disconnectedness that I’m feeling now is one that characterises that thing we all do – ageing. :)

until next time, time for adages?